(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Late last night (April 19) the House Rules Committee rejected a bipartisan amendment authored by Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and Tom Udall (D-NM) designed to fix the harmful Hydro Title (Title III) of the House Energy Bill, which is scheduled for floor consideration today. Rejection by the Rules Committee will prevent the amendment from being considered by the full House and will, in all likelihood, ensure passage of the Title later today as part of the larger energy bill.
"Last night, the Rules Committee turned its back on the interests of sportsmen and women, rivers, and the trout and salmon fisheries of the nation," said Steve Moyer, Vice President of Volunteer Operation and Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited. "When all 435 Members of Congress are not even afforded a chance to debate such an important natural resource issue, a real travesty has occurred."
Title III of HR 6 would disenfranchise river and fish conservationists by creating a new alternative decision-making process accessible only to dam owners. If enacted the provision would undermine the current balanced relicensing process by giving the industry a trump card to use to try and get out of fish passage and improved flows requirements established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries biologists. In short, the bill shifts the balance of power in hydropower relicensings in favor of dam owners and against the health of America's rivers.
"The hydropower industry and its supporters in Congress have the votes to shut out our voices, but they have no justification. The current fair and balanced relicensing process, although it is challenging, continues to churn out a string of positive agreements for improving rivers and fisheries without any substantial loss in generating capacity. The system is not broke, and it certainly doesn't need this bad fix. The Dingell/Boehlert/Udall amendment would have maintained a fair and open process," Moyer said.
"Those who are making the critical decisions about how the Energy Bill is being considered don't seem to understand the basic fact that hydropower interests are not the only ones who use and benefit economically from rivers," said Moyer. "Fish and wildlife need healthy rivers as do anglers, boaters, the sport fishing and commercial fishing industries. The rivers and waterways of the nation provide more than 557 million days of fishing for 34 million anglers who, in turn, spend $41 billion in pursuit of fish. These interests deserve the opportunity to be heard in the relicensing process, and they deserve a chance to have this issue debated on the floor of the House of Representatives."
Other provisions which undercut trout and salmon resources also appear to be on the way to passage in the H.R. 6. Provisions found in the Oil and Gas section of the bill would exempt construction activities related to oil and gas development on public lands from complying with portions of the Clean Water Act and exempt an industry practice known as "hydraulic fracturing" from the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing for drilling fluids and other byproducts of gas and oil development to be injected into the ground, potentially contaminating rivers, streams, and groundwater.
Also, provisions in the bill would exempt a large class of energy projects, including hydropower, from complying with the National Environmental Policy Act's (NEPA) core functions under the guise of regulatory streamlining for "renewable energy" projects. This provision would undercut NEPA's basic requirements to look at less environmentally-harmful alternatives to projects advocated by industry proponents.
Following the near certain passage of H.R. 6 on Thursday, TU and other conservationists will turn their attention to the Senate which is drafting a companion bill. Action is expected on the Senate Energy bill in the coming months.